By Phil Schaap
THE NEW WORLD / THE HISTORY AND CULTURE OF NEW ORLEANS (1718-1885)
Marco Polo’s overland trip from Italy to China (13th Century) led to a desire to find a waterway to the Far East from Western Europe. Beginning in 1492 and for over a century thereafter, explorations to find that waterway instead landed in the Americas. Colonization in the Americas, in what would be labeled “The New World”, only began late in the period of such sea explorations.
China and the Far East offered goods that could be purchased. The Americas offered raw materials. Western Europeans seeking to benefit from the riches in their New World colonies faced a labor-intensive process. Very quickly after the first colonies were founded, the Europeans found the work force to reap those riches by enslaving Black Africans.
The sea voyages after Marco Polo’s journey started over a hundred years later. Colonies in what would become the original United States of America were founded over a hundred years after those first sea voyages. But just 12 years after the founding of Jamestown (1607) and the English colony of Virginia, slavery was introduced (1619). Enslaved Black Africans and their early African American enslaved descendants would work the land for over two and one half centuries.
The English colonies forbade the captives from practicing their customs. But it was otherwise in New Orleans, a city founded for France in 1718 by the younger LeMoyne, aka Bienville. He allowed African cultural customs by yoking them to the Christian Sabbath. As early as 1724 and likely lasting until 1885, a public area known historically as Congo Square featured the display of African custom, including music. Such music heard weekly continued during New Orleans’ French, Spanish, English, antebellum USA, American Civil War, Reconstruction periods - and a bit beyond. It was the rise of legalized segregation that led to the abolishing of Congo Square. Early “Jim Crow” laws received national endorsement with the US Supreme Court’s infamous “separate but equal” decision in Plessy v Ferguson. Homer Plessy was an African American born in New Orleans during the Civil War and the court challenge to segregation was a New Orleans case. Racist repression continued.
JAZZ BEGINS IN NEW ORLEANS / Buddy Bolden: The First Jazzman /
JAZZ WITH NO SOLOS: the collective ensemble of early Jazz / THE DAWN OF THE SOLO
Jazz began in New Orleans. The Crescent City was blessed with water in two ways: it’s the South’s largest ocean port, and New Orleans lies at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Also, its colonial heritage was uniquely multi-national, and Congo Square stood alone in allowing Blacks to retain African customs openly and on public display in the ‘New World.’
These four ingredients are the foundation to the emergence in the late 19th Century of the African American musician, Charles “Buddy” Bolden, who played music with a heretofore unknown rhythmic lilt called swing. Buddy Bolden, born in 1877, probably witnessed the last events at Congo Square. He chose the trumpet-like cornet and became a professional musician following his high school graduation. Bolden, now often billed as “King” or “Professor” Bolden, led his band beginning roughly in 1898 until he was institutionalized in 1907. Bolden was perceived, even in his time, by those who heard him, played with him, and spoke about him as the originator of swing, and therefore of Jazz. When the 20th century arrived, Bolden was preeminent in this new music, to be known as Jazz, in its birth city, New Orleans.
Buddy Bolden is thought to both play and compose Blues as well as to perform Ragtime pieces, marches, and more – specifics are unknowable. The work, most commonly called “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say” and attributed to Bolden, is the prominent second strain to the 1904 composition “St. Louis Tickle” that was published with composer credit to Theron C. Bennett.
There is some evidence that once in the mental institution Bolden’s music talents found him performing with Caucasian inmates – perhaps there was more integration in a mental facility. Charles “Buddy” Bolden died in 1931 after spending his last 24 years in the mental institution.
Early Jazz proved itself by swinging: there were no other criteria. In New Orleans, in the early days, from the end of the 19th Century running to the 1910s, a system to swing by evolved. It was a collective adlibbing ensemble and the frontline played polyphonically. A preference for 3 or 4 horns came forward and rhythm sections tended to be four-piece. Spontaneity ruled but the individual improvised solo did not at first exist.
The individual improvised solo and its eventual use of replacing the melody over the balance of a song’s form would be added in the final stages of Jazz being played exclusively in New Orleans (1910s). Its creation is not easy to explain. Early components included: a single musician playing a fixed passage; stop time breaks where one musician would play made up music; the memorization and stringing together of such breaks into a riff approach to soloing; and, finally, the realization that memorization was unnecessary – to solo, musicians could just use their ears.
King Oliver is considered the pivotal pioneer in the emergence of the solo.
THE USA AND MUCH OF THE WORLD DISCOVERS JAZZ
Beginning in 1914, Jazz began to be exposed outside of New Orleans. The two keys were the Great Migration, and the entertainment industry presenting Jazz.
The Great Migration: a fifth of Black America abandoned the South and moved into urban centers in the North. The Great Migration was accelerated by the addition of the assembly line to the Second Industrial Revolution. Further, The Great War (World War I) in Europe had largely put an end to international immigration in the U.S., which opened more employment opportunities, even for Blacks, in northern factories. African American migration largely followed train lines. Migrating New Orleanian African Americans most often resettled in Chicago and that included many of Jazz’s pioneers. It was in the Windy City, that the name of the music, Jazz, got going. Early Jazz musicians found that in the North their work was better paid and promoted. For the Black musicians – there were Caucasian Jazz musicians from New Orleans too – less racist repression was also a bonus to coming north.
But even before the Great Migration was in full sway, before Chicago would replace New Orleans as the center of Jazz, the entertainment industry began spreading the word of a new music from New Orleans. The proprietors of the entertainment industry noticing this new music, to be called Jazz, being quite popular in New Orleans, decided to bring it to a wider public.
A momentous development – and quite surprising given the racist practices – was the placing of the Original Creole Band, African American Jazz pioneers from New Orleans, into big time vaudeville. Vaudeville – live variety entertainment shows – was segregated. But the Original Creole Band were a rare Black group performing in bigger and better paying vaudeville theatres for White audiences. And they were a sensation! The Original Creole Band, in challenging segregation and for introducing their innovative new music, is incredibly important historically and artistically. They performed from 1914-1918 throughout the US and Canada. Their leader was bassist Bill Johnson and the performances spotlighted Freddie Keppard on trumpet.
The entertainment industry’s record business invested in Jazz, too. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (often called “ODJB” / these were White Jazz pioneers originally from New Orleans) were brought from Chicago to the prestigious Reisenweber’s in NYC’s Columbus Circle in January 1917. The ODJB were a sensation! Victor Records recorded them on 2/26/1917 and sales were in significant six figures within 4 weeks. The ODJB’s 1918 records on Victor sold as well. The records, selling in the millions in the USA, were issued and successful in Europe as well.
But it was the United States entry into the Great War (World War I), however inadvertently, that led to a burst of exposure for Jazz to an international audience. Oddly, segregation greatly added to the spread. The US Armed Forces in World War I were segregated, and the African American troops were assigned to the French army and, therefore, got into battle sooner. The Black regiments had bands led by James Reese Europe and he incorporated some Jazz into their performances. These bands played for the allied armies, German prisoners, and, later, in victory parades in France, England, and back in the USA.
The Great War’s victorious conclusion meant the exit from Europe of the Black US Armed Forces musicians. European audiences demanded that the music, now widely known by the name “Jazz” return. The ODJB went to England and stayed nearly two years, recording often in London. An associate of James Reese Europe, Will Marion Cook, took a Black orchestra to Europe in May 1919. To emphasize Jazz and the emergence of the solo, Cook hired Sidney Bechet and featured him extensively in the Southern Syncopated Orchestra performances. Thereafter, Jazz had a real toehold in Europe and beyond. The exponential expansion for Jazz in its first exposures outside of New Orleans is the foundation to the music’s continued existence.
KING OLIVER’S CREOLE JAZZ BAND
Towards the end of 1920, King Oliver converted from being the hired ‘Hot Jazz’ soloist in other peoples’ bands to having his own ensemble. So began the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band. Oliver used “Creole” not because he or his bandmates were Creoles, but to refer to the Original Creole Band and their success in the nineteen-teens.
Soon after, the group left Chicago for California and played extensively in Los Angeles and San Francisco until Spring 1922. During its early episodes, the instrumentation and personnel of the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band varied a good deal.
On their return to Chicago, the band opened a long-term engagement at the Lincoln Gardens (the renaming of the former Royal Gardens, now far more grand) using the now common New Orleans Jazz trinity of cornet (trumpet), trombone, and clarinet for the frontline. The rhythm section was occasionally four-piece, but for most of the next year (into Spring 1923), Bill Johnson doubled banjo and bass, leaving the rhythm as three-piece.
In the summer of 1922, King Oliver sent for his protégé Louis Armstrong, who was still in New Orleans. The King’s dental problems which affected his ability – he would need false teeth by late 1928 – were already in evidence. The reasoning that went into adding Louis on second cornet was that Armstrong could carry a significant part of the fulltime cornet-lead in the ensemble, which was still in the continuous polyphonic lines of the early New Orleans style. But Oliver also loved Louis and wished for their reuniting. [There had been a father and son, and a teacher and pupil relationship between them in New Orleans.] Further, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band developed a way to use the two cornet frontline with its own subset of polyphony, a point and counterpoint, or lead with accompaniment; and, in what became a highlight to the group’s performance, stunning two cornet stop time breaks.
At this point, the personnel and instrumentation solidified with: King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, cornets; Honore Dutrey, trombone; Johnny Dodds, clarinet; Lill (later Lil) Hardin (later Armstrong), piano; Bill Johnson, banjo and string bass; and Warren “Baby” Dodds, drums. By Summer 1923, Johnson would be replaced by Bud Scott who only played banjo. Scott was subsequently followed by Johnny St. Cyr. By early Fall 1923, a full-time bassist was added with Charlie Jackson on bass saxophone – as a member of the rhythm section. Using these personnels and instrumentations, the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band made all of its recordings in 1923. There are 37 surviving selections, presenting 30 tunes (five, “Dippermouth Blues”, “Snake Rag”; “Working Man’s Blues”, “Riverside Blues”, and “Mabel’s Dream”, in different versions) with two alternate takes (the Paramount “Mabel’s Dream” and “Southern Stomps”). There are two additional personnel variations on their record dates, specifically the Gennett Records session of October 5, 1923 and the Columbia Records sessions of October 15 & 16, 1923.
By early 1924, after the Dodds brothers had left, King Oliver added a second clarinet and there were additional personnel changes, including the exit of Louis Armstrong. By 1925, the King disbanded the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band; and, after a few months of returning to freelancing, converted from New Orleans Jazz to far more homophonic music forging his own Jazz Age Big Band.
The King Oliver Creole Jazz Band provides the most important representation of the New Orleans concept and Jazz’s beginning. Their recordings offer a superior illustration of the all ensemble – no solos – New Orleans Jazz polyphony. While on others, we catch the dawn of the individual improvised solo and how the use of that breakthrough let the solo replace the melody over the remaining components of the tune. The King Oliver Creole Jazz Band was a working aggregation, and their recordings show how valuable a full-time band is over pick-up units. Compared to other pioneering New Orleans groups of that time, they left behind a lot of recordings and they are the best. Most often a septet, there was a majority of genius: Louis Armstrong, of course; and, easily argued, both Johnny and brother Baby Dodds; and King Oliver, himself.
JAZZ ADOPTS AND ADAPTS THE DANCE ORCHESTRA:
THE JAZZ AGE BIG BAND
During the first two decades of the 20th Century, the pop music of the USA was dance music. Ballrooms, where live music was played for dancing, became widespread. The orchestras in these ballrooms played written, arranged music.
Once the first wave of a Jazz craze quieted down in the early 20’s, the novelty of New Orleans Jazz lessened. Over the next few years, Jazz would be reshaped from its polyphonic approach to a homophonic system. Stunningly, Jazz would expand its commercial success despite this radical change in the product.
A huge segment of Jazz’s now greatly enlarged audience began to float a notion that they’d prefer to get their Jazz within the music making of the extremely popular dance bands. Many Jazz musicians began to regard this as a good thing reasoning that the arrangers for the dance bands might provide a workable system for implementing the individual improvised solo. Superimposing such solos on the already in place collective ensemble jam to New Orleans Jazz had proved problematic. Though not formally announced, the Big Band years of Jazz had begun as Jazz adopted and adapted the dance band.
The genius to this transition is Don Redman, a conservatory trained African American multi-instrumentalist who favored the alto sax. Redman became Musical Director for the emerging Fletcher Henderson Orchestra on the precipice of bigtime gigs. Don Redman designed the Jazz Age Big Band. It had six horns and could voice the most complex harmony. Those horns were grouped into two three piece sections – brass and reeds – so that ‘call and response’ could be delivered with chord capability within the same family of instruments in both sections. Brass was two trumpets and a trombone. Reeds, stacked harmonically, contained alto sax, tenor sax, and another alto sax (known as “3rd alto”). The reeds always doubled clarinet and often deployed many other saxophones. Four, five, and even six part harmony forced Jazz Age Big Bands horn players to master cross-section musicianship. Redman chose the then endemic four piece rhythm section: piano, bass (tuba), banjo, and drums. Redman’s creation of a 10 piece Jazz dance band would be the most widespread Jazz ensemble design into the 1930s. It would be embraced by the young Duke Ellington among many, many others.
Jean Goldkette, a European born Western Classical pianist turned businessman, created a dance band and ballroom empire headquartered in Detroit that reigned throughout the 1920s. The flagship orchestra to Goldkette’s operation was an eleven piece Big Band that was designed by a trombone playing arranger, Charles Crozier, who would be followed by Russ Morgan. The Jean Goldkette Orchestra used four brass, two trumpets and two trombones; three reeds (stacked as with Redman’s concept); and four rhythm. This ensemble became exceedingly popular but their orchestral design, unlike Don Redman’s, was rarely emulated.
Many Jazz Age Big Bands made use of a violinist who would often stand in front and act like a conductor. Fletcher Henderson had one at first, as did Goldkette. They’re not often used on recordings and eventually this practice, the use of a violin, was dropped.
In 1924, both the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and the Jean Goldkette Orchestra heightened their Jazz solo capability by hiring cornetists. Henderson hired Louis Armstrong, Goldkette hired Bix Beiderbecke. These appointments were not intended to change the construction of the orchestras, but they, nevertheless, led to a second eleven piece Jazz Age Big Band (Henderson with Louis), and a 12 piece orchestra (Goldkette’s with Bix). Fletcher Henderson now had a four piece brass section with three trumpets and a trombone; while Jean Goldkette’s brass had become five piece with three trumpets and two trombones. [Armstrong would convert from cornet to trumpet. Bix would always stay on cornet.]
The two mighty musical enterprises came head to head in October 1926, when they played opposite one another in highly publicized battles of music at New York City’s legendary Roseland Ballroom.
Fletcher Henderson soon added a second trombone, incorporated early Jazz repertoire favored by Goldkette’s group, and commissioned music from Goldkette’s arranger, Bill Challis. For the next seven years, the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra would carry the mantle of the twelve piece Big Band.
Jean Goldkette was equally impressed with Henderson’s music and Don Redman’s arranging. So much so that Goldkette and his African American bandleading business associate, William McKinney, hired Don Redman away from Henderson.
McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, an African American group initially named McKinney’s Syncos, were a standard 10 piece Jazz Age Big Band. They resented but accepted the stereotype renaming as a condition to getting the bigtime gig with Goldkette. McKinney’s Cotton Pickers were to the palatial Greystone Ballroom in Detroit what the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra was to the Roseland Ballroom in the Big Apple. But Goldkette and McKinney realized that Redman’s arranging and composing made Fletcher’s music superior.
Money, of course, enticed Don Redman to move to Detroit, but as an added sweetener to the deal, no saxophonist in McKinney’s Cotton Pickers would be fired. Don Redman’s alto would be added. It made McKinney’s ensemble the first with a four piece saxophone section: a revolutionary development in orchestral Jazz that also made McKinney’s Cotton Pickers the third type of an eleven piece Big Band.
An Early Jazz Primer leaves off at this point. It does not cover subsequent developments in Jazz.
Further, this primer does not cover many key aspects within its subject. A large part of whatever sized audience An Early Jazz Primer reaches are being introduced to a wondrous music that they were unfamiliar with.
- Phil Schaap November 8, 2020